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When Things Are More Valuable After They're Broken

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You've broken a dish; it's in bits and pieces on the floor. You pick up the shards. You forage for glue. You try to stick them back together but, dammit, the cracks don't quite align. You look at this Franken-ceramic and decide that it will always bug you, just enough, when you see it there on the shelf amongst its pure tableware pals. So, in the end, you toss it out.

For practitioners of the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, those visibly cobbled together remains would actually be considered more valuable than the original. There are a few origin stories for the practice; they all seem to involve a 15th century shogun who, unhappy with a shoddy repair job on a favorite tea bowl, ordered craftsmen to come up with a more aesthetically satisfying fix.


Rather than attempt something seamless, they concocted a mix of lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold and applied it in the fault-lines, calling blingy attention to ts blemishes. (I actually learned about this over Thanksgiving, when my mom fumbled a bowl that cracked in two on the kitchen tiles and my brother's fiance suggested we give something resembling Kintsugi a go.)

Then, voila! With a little elbow grease and some TLC, what was once bound for the trash heap manages an impressive physical turnaround—facilitated of course, by a significant mental shift: imperfections become coveted, scars tell a story, and weak points are now held in high regard. It aligns well with the cultural idea of wabi-sabi or, more simply, finding beauty in imperfections.


Can the concept be applied beyond the occasional dropped dinner plate? We've seen ordinary objects elevated to historical, museum-worthy status, but artists have been rescuing landfill-bound ephemera for years. Tech is obviously a tough field here; busted iPhone screens and hopelessly out of date hardware are pretty impossible to make somehow sexy or compelling, because these elements have such a direct impact on inherent functionality.

But it seems like opting for level-headed acceptance—even affectionate embrace!—of the flaws in our precious things would be a nice way to head into the holiday season, when stuff is gifted, received, and often quickly forgotten with jolly abandon. Here's to the effed-up, the junk-adjacent, the almost-binned, and the close-to-trash; may all this stuff lead long and happy lives in the care of someone who loves it.

Image via Droog's Kintsugi Repair Kit